Interview by Laura Snoad

Crafting “brave, effective and beautiful” work is the core focus for London design practice NB Studio

Celebrating its 20th birthday this year, London-based design practice NB Studio creates brands and campaigns for clients from British stalwarts John Lewis and Sainsbury’s to cultural institutions like Tate and V&A. It has created adorable imagery for Mothercare inspired by Matisse’s cut-outs and moodily lit stills featuring Sadler’s Wells’ dancers and support staff. Self-initiated work is a huge part of NB Studio’s company culture, it even set up its very own theatre company – yes really. NB Studio creative director Nick Finney explains the studio’s ethos and drive.

Overview

NB Studio works on branding and communications for small start-ups, medium enterprises and big companies around the world. We’re interested in helping individuals and businesses thrive through good design and good design-thinking. We’re intrigued by what the future might bring so we keep that front and centre. Above all we believe that work should be brave, effective and beautiful.

The studio has evolved organically. When we started we were a small studio of designers working on tactical project-based work. We soon realised that we needed organising, so we recruited our first studio manager – it has gone on from there. Our work has shifted to client-based work, often with a need for some rigorous design thinking up front. Our most recent non-designer hire has been a strategy director as we wanted to uncover insights, represent the consumer and instil fresh thinking into our conversations with clients.

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Inside NB’s London-based studio

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Inside NB’s London-based studio

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Inside NB’s London-based studio

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The team at work

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Inside NB’s London-based studio

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The team at work

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Inside NB’s London-based studio

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Nick Finney at work

The Team

We’ve been 10 people for most of our existence but the ratio of designers has adapted over time. Currently we stand at four full-time designers, two account managers, one strategy director, and two creative partners. Last year we worked with four freelancers across different periods. Often they are here to help us cover annual or maternity leave or to boost the team for busy periods. We may need a specific skill set or experience level and that will focus us on who we work with at any given time. We work with the best people for the job. When it comes to recruiting new members of the team, we look for designers with a keen eye, a steady hand, a sharp mind and a big heart. Often designers will be working with us already on an internship. With our accounts and strategy hires we look for intelligence, empathy and diplomacy.

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Work for London’s Almeida Theatre

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Work for London’s Almeida Theatre

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Work for London’s Almeida Theatre

The Work

In the last year, we’ve rebranded a well-known arts and media college, created a visual identity programme for a global hotel brand, taken our theatre production to Cape Town and Jaipur, helped a Swiss watch brand with their image, and a Swiss bank with their digital money.

Work will come in to the studio in one of two ways: from our existing clients and collaborators, or from new sources, people we haven’t worked with before. Often it will be the result of a recommendation or someone will have seen some of our work, checked a design poll or read an article about us or by us. Unless people ask for Alan and I directly, our talented accounts team will field the call, asking the sort of questions that will determine whether or not we feel the introduction is the right fit for us. If this part of the process is successful we will meet – usually me and an account manager. Again beyond our experience and expertise, this will be about fit and personality. Things we consider include: are we the right people for the job? Are they the right kind of client for us? Are there any other consultancies up for the part?

“When it comes to recruiting, we look for a keen eye, a steady hand, a sharp mind and a big heart.”

Why Us? by NB

We’ll propose a process, methodology, timings and design fees for the task. Depending on the size and complexity of the job this can be created by a team formed of a creative partner, strategy director and account manager. Some work is simpler and may take a smaller team and a more standard response. Once terms have been agreed, we will pull the brief apart with the client and put it back together with them to make sure we’ve left no stone unturned and that we have something rock solid we can respond to. The brief will then be presented to our design team, usually in a fun and exciting way to get them fired-up creatively and inspired to push the boundaries of what’s possible. The design team are then fully on board and will generally attend most if not all client meetings. Managing the time and the financial aspect of the work is done by the accounts team with support from our studio manager Saphira, who also keeps us fuelled with drinks and snacks.

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Outisde NB Studio

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Inside NB Studio

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Inside NB Studio

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Account manager Hannah Rea at NB Studio

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Studio manager Saphira Parry at NB Studio

The Culture

Our studio is huge, airy and light – industrial and shabby rather than corporate and slick. Nothing is forced here, we’re very proud of our home. We have the best London has to offer, nestled right between Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Thames and St Paul’s. Borough Market is on our doorstep for lunch and frolics, and the City and West End are a skip across the Millennium bridge.

We’ll attend events together and away days will happen spontaneously. This year there’s a rumour about walking the Three Peaks together. We will go to talks and private views and we put on Creative Courage events at our studio – magicians, poets and theatre producers have all visited. We try to keep Fridays meeting-free so we can concentrate on work and we finish early so we can get together and meet an inspirational speaker, collaborator or just run through exciting project briefs or show off our latest work to each other. We call this Chantelle (or Show’n’Tell) and these will often finish in a pub.

“We believe that work should be brave, effective and beautiful.”

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Branding work for The Glenlivet Cipher, 2016

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Work for Mothercare

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Work for Mothercare

We do get our team involved in the occasional training course. We have a few in the diary that we hope will inspire us to think about the commercial side of creativity differently. We award School of Life vouchers to the winner of our Creative Courage Award for Bravery in the Line of Duty, essentially a prize for the person who’s pulled out all of the stops recently. We often work on self-initiated projects as a studio. There’s always something exciting going on. Check out whatifcricket.net, a recent side-project tapping into the passion for the sport in the studio.

Interview by Laura Snoad
Photography by Kieran Pharaoh
Mention Nick Finney
Mention Jamie Breach
Mention Saphira Parry
Mention Hannah Rea